*Caution, Spoilers Ahead*
Season 4 of the hit History Channel TV show Vikings - telling the tale of Ragnar Lothbrok, a 9th century Danish king and Viking who sailed to east Anglia in 865 AD - looks to be shuffling the deck this season, so to speak, shifting story arcs, placing pawns where they need be, and setting up characters for bigger roles to play on the sword-swinging, action-drama, while introducing new ones.
In this, we'll be speculating about season 4 and Ragnar's fate, as the legend goes, he was executed in a pit of venomous snakes by King Aelle of Northumbria - played on the show by Ivan Kaye - King Aella vowing vengeance against Ragnar and the Northmen earlier in the show's series after promising them large sums of gold for a peaceful exit of his kingdom. Embittered and enraged, the manipulative king no doubt continues to plot some form of revenge against the vikings.
The devices that lead to Ragnar's death in the legend are his capture by King Aelle's forces and his subsequent execution in a snake pit, which we've already seen to exist when the king tossed one of his own generals into a snake pit after losing battle against the Northmen.
So we know that indeed, the method to Ragnar's execution is already in place and that the king has not thought well of the viking people for a number of seasons now. With Ragnar currently in season 4 being unwell, an internal injury festering in his body since the Battle for Paris in season 3, his spirit broken after Athelstan's murder by Ragnar's once close friend Floki, and his detachment from his wife, children and kingdom, Ragnar seems to be on his way to punching out. He even muses on death, thinking of it as a beautiful thing he very much desires, though he does not want to meet it an old and dying man sitting on his throne in Kattegat, for which he now cares little for. Instead, he now spends his days in an isolated house away from his throne, ogling over a mysterious Chinese slave, filling his mind with her ancient Chinese "medicine." Ragnar is a broken king looking for his road to Valhalla. With the vikings set to return to Paris, this time with more numbers, now that King Harald Finehair and his brother Halfdan the Black (who's worse than his brother as the name implies) are set to join him while at the same time, plotting with Floki (who Ragnar possibly should have left tied up in that cave) to overthrow Ragnar from his thrown.
Things have really been shaking up in Anglia and Frankia since the vikings came and went yet again. Alliances are being drawn, marriages are being desecrated and kings are being angered. King Aelle in particular, who's binding contract of partnership with King Ecbert has been effectively tainted by the fact that Aelle's daughter, married off to Ecbert's son, Aethelwulf, is instead now sharing Ecbert's private chambers while the king's son is bedding Queen Kwenthrith who Aelle has promised to restore to her throne, knowing all too well that he and Ecbert's alliance to now be nothing more than a mockery between them. His trust of his close counterparts has been trampled over more than once and with the vikings returning and Ecbert all too willing to show mercy towards them because of his respect of Ragnar, Aelle is no doubt making plans of his own to finally dispose of the Northmen, Ragnar being the primary target. Will Aelle travel to Paris and abandon Wessex and Mercia to join Ragnar's brother, setting a trap for Ragnar? This could be a very likely scenario to play out and one that may already be under way.
Yidu, a mysterious Asian woman who claims to be from China, her father being just revealed to be the Emperor of China, her duties as a slave in Kattegat now being dispelled from her endearment by the King himself, in exchange for her private company and addictive medicines. But could she be more than or something entirely different from she claims to be?
There is a very strong presence of serpents and mystery with Yidu, the serpents being a big deal for Ragnar and now, possibly Yidu. She claims to have come as a slave from Frankia (key word here being Frankia) yet causes suspicion when it is revealed she does not even hold the skills to handle a chicken, suggesting her be of noble or wealthy birth, with no need for manual labor. Could there be plans in the works between Paris and Northumbria yet to be revealed concerning the issue of the Northmen? Yidu has effectively filled the void Athelstan left in Ragnar following his death. Though where as Athelstan sharpened Ragnar's mind with valuable advice and encouraging words, Yidu seems to be doing the opposite, Ragnar falling ever further into some sort of madness caused by grief and betrayal. Her medicines persistently dulling his mind and warping his perspective, Yidu seems to have more in mind than just being a free woman in Norway. Michael Hirst, creator, writer, and show runner himself of Vikings teased that the relationship between Yidu and Ragnar will have an "astonishing end game." What that endgame is could very well be tied into the death of Ragnar.
But what will it mean for the show if he's gone? If Ragnar does indeed die by the hands of King Aelle, or some other means, my guess being this season as good as any to end on a finale episode with the death of Ragnar or have a lead-up episode to the finale in which the final episode is spent beginning to contemplate the repercussions of his death, what happens to the show? How will the show retain it's integrity if the main star is killed off with more seasons planned? If it were that the show was called Ragnar Lodbrock, it would be like killing off Oliver Queen in Arrow and moving on with the show sans the title character. I honestly do not believe it will be this way though.
What makes Vikings so compelling is the number of layers that have been added on to these characters episode after episode. The character development has been fairly top notch, with allegiances and trusts being broken left and right and the after effects it has on the characters involved, spanning seasons of slow growth while the victims live with such ramifications, these being two examples. This makes for lots of great characters all around in the show. Bjorn's journey to becoming a legend, Ivar's training at the hands of Floki, Lagertha's hold on power, Ecbert's, Aelle's, and Kwenthrith's struggle for leverage, and Rollo's rise to his destiny as foretold by the Seer. The point is, Vikings has become so much more since we were first introduced to Ragnar and Kattegat. He opened the world up with his travels and therefore, it's many locations serve just as much purpose as Ragnar's small world does. And with Ragnar waning in health and power, the rest of the events and characters on the show can more than bare their weight at the loss of an already disappearing character.
I'd love to be able to say that Travis Fimmel's Ragnar at this point is indispensable to the show, but really he's quite the opposite. At the moment, Ragnar's character and spirit are about at rock bottom, him just spending most the season so far, in a near-psychotic state or under the heavy influence of exotic drugs, his will to go on dwindling away. His grasp on his throne is all but non-existent and the wolves are beginning to circle.
Ragnar leaves for battle once more in the most recent episode, the freshest tragedy being him denied entry into Valhalla. Ragnar is on the road out of life and looks to go out swinging hoping that it comes to that. The truth is, there are many signs pointing to the fact that Hirst and the rest of the Vikings team are readying for Ragnar's departure. Look no further than Hirst himself, once again, explaining all this as so.
"[Ragnar] took that baptism seriously because for him it was personal. It was a way of trying to make sure that when he dies he’ll see Athelstan again….I thought it was very important when I started thinking about this whole thing that Ragnar had many sons and some of his sons became more famous than he was. So I can perfectly well envision a world without Ragnar and further adventures for the sons. Absolutely. That’s something I really, really want to do."
So Ragnar's spirituality had shifted following Athelstan, thus the gods denying him entry into Valhalla. This disturbed Ragnar greatly as was evident in S5 Ep. 1 when the gates were closed to him. My bet is, he seeks spiritual redemption to gain access into Valhalla. His natural curiosity impedes that journey however, thanks to Yidu and her distractions and medicines. So Ragnar will once again enter battle this season with the Christians and will do so weakened and not right in his mind. This may very well lead to his capture by Aelle and inevitable downfall.
But who knows? The show may keep him around despite him being dead or not as a spiritual guide to his sons, similar to Jedi ghosts. He may indeed gain entry to Valhalla and appear to his children in dreams and other scenarios. Though the legend of Ragnar Lothbrok does not end at Ragnar Lothbrok. It extends into his children, thus I strongly believe this will happen this season or next, with the show's complexities and integrity remaining in tact for fans to continue to enjoy comfortably.
- Josh Price
Tell us what you think about the possibility of Ragnar leaving Vikings in the comments below!